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Over the last year, we’ve become all too familiar with the risk posed by a deadly airborne virus, but, as we move out of lockdown, there are other airborne hazards we urgently need to fight. However, while advice and guidance are abundant in the use of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in combating the spread of COVID-19, there has been very little said of the risk of using HVAC systems after a prolonged period of inactivity. As those familiar with HVAC systems know, air conditioning and ventilation systems are designed to be used regularly, if not constantly. Enclosed and moist environments As systems convey air and/or cool it, systems build up moisture and, having been inactive for many months, if not for a whole year, these humid, enclosed, and moist environments will have become a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and fungus. Mould or mildew can grow in air ducts, filters, or vents as well as in drip pans and coils Mould or mildew can grow in air ducts, filters, or vents as well as in drip pans and coils. It spreads through the production of microscopic spores which float through the air and deposit on surfaces. In the right environments, these spores can form mold colonies, where they can then produce more spores that can be spread further. Worse, these spores can survive and linger in an atmosphere for long periods, and some molds can be deadly. Exposure to mold Now imagine that a contaminated HVAC system, which has been inactive for weeks, months, or even a whole year, is switched back on: Immediately, a current of air carries the spores through the ducting before projecting them out across every inhabited space, ready for workers, shoppers or visitors who are venturing out after lockdown to touch, inhale, eat or drink. As well as smelling musty and unpleasant, mold exposure can cause cold or allergy-like symptoms such as a stuffy nose, cough, or sore throat as well as headaches, nausea, skin and respiratory diseases. It can also be particularly dangerous to people who are immunocompromised or who have conditions such as asthma. Routine maintenance It sounds disgusting, but the risk is very much real. Unfortunately, there has been very little advice or guidance from the UK government to make property managers or users aware of this issue and so many will have neglected to protect themselves and their workers or visitors. Mould has always been able to grow inside HVAC systems, and this is why owners are obliged to have them regularly serviced. But unless that routine maintenance has gone ahead as planned throughout the lockdowns, and unless their systems have been inspected and disinfected again before opening, COVID-19 will be just one of many airborne health hazards people will face this summer. No clear warnings Government guidance encourages the use of various HVAC systems as part of its COVID-secure strategies Of course, the UK is not the only country to have imposed lockdown restrictions, and, over in America, their health authority, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published warnings around this. But, here in the UK, there have been no such messages: Government guidance encourages the use of various HVAC systems as part of its COVID-secure strategies, but it makes no clear warnings about the particular risk of using these after a period of prolonged inactivity. Mitigated risks I suspect that while larger workplaces with dedicated property managers and close connections to professionals such as ourselves will be more likely to have mitigated these risks, countless other organizations will not: I’m particularly concerned about small offices, hotels, restaurants, pubs, holiday cottages, and shops which may have systems unchecked for years and which would have had their hands full with other problems that were more pressing than maintaining an HVAC systems no-one is using. Cleaning and disinfecting HVAC Enhanced cleaning in other respects could also have made matters worse; if, for example, a carpet was shampooed at the start of lockdown and the HVAC system was turned off, a property manager will have inadvertently created the perfect environment for mold to thrive. Fortunately, HVAC systems can be disinfected and cleaned to make them safe again, but with so little awareness, many system owners will not be taking these steps. Action against mold However, while there may not be specific guidance in relation to the risk of mold in HVAC systems after lockdown, there are still laws in place which oblige property managers to take action. These include the Health & Safety at Work Act, The Workplace Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations, Occupiers Liability Act, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. As a result, employers or property managers may be liable for illness or harm which may occur from the use of contaminated systems. As we approach the end of the lockdown restrictions, I would urge all HVAC engineers, property managers, and property maintenance professionals to immediately reach out to clients and warn them of this danger, because the last thing we need is another health crisis.
Across the globe, annual food loss amounts total to approximately 1.3 billion tons of waste and 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To put that in perspective: If food waste were a country, it would rank as the third largest GHG emitting country in the world, surpassed only by the United States and China. The average supermarket, which brings in about $35M in annual revenue, will see $526,590 worth of food waste and 3,600 MWh worth of wasted energy use, where about 2,000 MWh is used for refrigeration—the equivalent of 170 households. SaaS for temperature monitoring Clearly, there is both an economic and sustainability burden to food loss besides the revenue loss and environmental impact. Luckily, this burden can be eased when using Software as a Service (SaaS), like food temperature monitoring. Supermarkets who monitor their food temperatures will improve their margins and overall profitability by selling food at its full price rather than marked down due to over ripening or close to expiration date. This, in turn, will deliver improved customer satisfaction because supermarkets will be able to continue to stock fresh food while minimizing the sale of old and ripened provisions.Supermarkets who monitor their food temperatures will improve their margins and overall profitability There are many benefits of using SaaS to improve supermarket efficiency, which can help to reduce food waste and lower energy costs in countless supermarkets worldwide. Many of the roughly 50,000 food retail locations that utilize electronics controllers use some level of SaaS technology like Alsense Food Retail Services, the newest cloud offering from Danfoss Climate Solutions for supermarkets and food retail applications. Alsense Food Retail Services is a sustainable, scalable, and secure modern platform that delivers tangible data to improve operational and energy efficiency while optimizing the performance of food retail operations. Its technology is engineered to provide supermarkets with actionable insights that allow you to track refrigeration asset performance, respond to alarms, integrate 24/7 monitoring, reduce energy consumption, and more to deliver savings as high as a 40% reduction in food waste and 30% decrease in energy costs. Examples of food loss prevention with Alsense Food Retail Services The sensor in the meat fridge notices a high temperature and submits an alarm to the cloud The alarm is analyzed by the Danfoss Enterprise Service Team (Managed services) The reason for the alarm is determined and a service provider is contacted The service provider is dispatched to the supermarket to fix the issue in the meat fridge to avoid food loss Danfoss’ advanced algorithms detect if the refrigeration systems are running efficiently or if they are over consuming energy Alsense Food Retail Services is a sustainable, scalable, and secure modern platform that delivers tangible data to improve operational and energy efficiency while optimizing the performance of food retail operations aktiv & irma, a supermarket in North Germany, has shown significant savingsWithout SaaS, the store’s ROI will take much longer than if you rely solely on the hardware as part of the Alsense Food Retail Services pilot program. In collaboration with Danfoss, they installed a solar photovoltaic system, storage system, and a charging station for guests. All major assets in the supermarket system are linked through the Alsense Food Retail Services cloud to manage loads and eliminate unnecessary peaks to best use each store’s energy. Regulating energy levels is accomplished through a variety of methods that offer potential savings: Load shifting: As high as 20 kW in additional peak reductions ($1,758.30 potential savings). Compressor curtailment Solar: 112 MWh electricity produced ($16,410.80 savings) Battery: Grid demand reduced by 40 kW ($3,516.60 savings) Peak load shaving: Charging station is throttled if needed to maintain target max peak level in the store. ($2,344.40 potential savings) aktiv & irma saved about 15% in additional energy costs and reduced over 70 tons of CO2 for a total savings of $20,168.80 compared to other supermarkets. For supermarkets that are considering marrying SaaS with their hardware expenditure, the return on investment (ROI) will depend largely on their level of SaaS investment. Without SaaS, the store’s ROI will take much longer than if you rely solely on the hardware. To put it simply, the more robust the SaaS program, the quicker supermarkets will see a return on the overall system investment. Alsense Food Retail Services? A zero-net, even net positive, billable energy supermarket is possible. The prerequisites to make these savings happen are based on energy efficiency, particularly reducing overall consumption and onsite heat and electricity generation and storage. Energy arbitrage services can enable energy bill optimization. Essentially, this means that energy can be stored in a battery and used when prices in the grid are high.Precooling can also be used to cool down cabinets before prices increase Precooling (curtailment) can also be used to cool down cabinets before prices increase. Another option is to turn off compressors for as long as possible when the energy prices are high. This means temperatures will drift upwards, so turn on the compressors before the temperature compromises food quality. Lastly, supermarkets have further potential to balance the grid via fast Frequency Response, peak Load Shifting, and seasonal Buffering. SaaS technology, like Alsense Food Retail Services, is a strong compliment to hardware assets that can help supermarkets achieve higher profitability and food loss and waste reduction. If a supermarket aims to go zero- or positive-net, the solution is to invest in both hardware and SaaS.
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